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When there is a school shooting…make sure you know your facts…

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I have debated on writing about this topic, because it is one of so much controversy. However, as I sit back and see all the rhetoric and memes, I can’t help but wonder if people truly understand the issue at hand.  As a mental health professional, law school student, former social worker, former juvenile probation officer and public school employee, I feel the need to share insight into things the average person may not consider…

1.  Stop the gun banter until you really understand the issue. And stop the partisan politics. I have a gun. My husband has lots of guns.  I appreciate that right.  Saying that, not everyone should be entitled to the same.  Felons don’t deserve gun rights.  Those with serious mental illness should not have guns. Children should not have guns (unsupervised). And no one, other than military and law enforcement, should have assault rifles or any other weapon that is capable of killing mass amounts of people in minutes. What is the justification? Unless there is a zombie apocalypse, I don’t see a need. I will admit I’m not a gun expert so if there is a valued need for citizens having such a weapon, beyond just wanting one, I’m all ears.  Saying this does not make me a bleeding heart liberal. It also doesn’t make me “Don’t Tread on Me” right-wing conservative.

2.  Mental illness truly IS the issue. As I type this, I am waiting to get a mental health patient placed in a psychiatric hospital. I have been waiting to find placement for 6 hours now, as the number of psychiatric beds are extremely limited. A deputy is required to sit with this patient until he is placed, which is one less law enforcement officer on the roads.  This patient is both homicidal and suicidal and having auditory hallucinations which tell him to kill people. He is only one of many.

In Virginia for 2017, there was an estimated 73,000 people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. There were an estimated 145,000 people with severe bi-polar disorder. As of 2016, there were an estimated 1526 psychiatric hospital beds in Virginia. Psychiatric patients who are involuntarily committed average a stay of 5-7 days.  Once they are released from the hospital, only about 14% follow up with aftercare services on an outpatient basis according to recent studies.  Are you seeing the problem?

Every single school shooting, or mass shooting for that matter, has been done by someone who is seriously mentally ill.  Most all of them had prior psychiatric treatment of some sort and all of them, minus 1%, had warning signs.  I am not suggesting that every person with mental illness, including bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, would commit a mass murder – however, there are many who are very capable due to their uncontrolled mental illness.  The average person would not believe this unless you work in the mental health field.

There is not enough funding currently budgeted for adequate mental health treatment. There are not enough public and private psychiatric hospitals. There are not enough outpatient community services to manage caseloads. There are not enough law enforcement officers to transport and sit with patients who are under emergency custody orders for hours and hours while a hospital bed is located. There are not enough assessment workers to timely assess the amount of people needing treatment. There are not enough laws mandating lengthier treatment and stringent protocols before release from hospitalization.  There simply is not enough…. This should be the first and foremost topic of concern of legislators.

If the general public truly knew how many seriously mentally ill people surrounded them everyday, they would have a totally different outlook on the issue. Trust me.  I had no idea until I began working on the front lines of mental health.

3.  Stop the “Keep God in Schools” rhetoric.  Don’t get me wrong, I am a Christian and I love Jesus!  The separation of church and state is NOT what is causing mass school shootings.  If you are a Christian, God is with you.  Period.  Just because schools can’t mandate public prayer or Bible reading, does not mean God is not in schools.  Across America, there are Fellowship of Christian Athlete Clubs, Bible Study groups, “Meet me at the Pole” campaigns where students meet to pray, independent ministries that students can join, etc.  These initiatives are NOT banned from public schools.  Reading from the bible or reciting prayer each day aloud to all students is not going to force a mentally ill student to convert to Christianity or prevent them from harming another.  Only God can do that.  Students who are Christians can pray whenever they want. No one is stopping them. I chose for my children to go to public schools for two reasons. First of all, I believe in the quality of education that public school provides.  Second, I want my children to be the light in a very dark world. I want them to be kind to others and demonstrate God’s love through their interactions.  I want them to know that evil exists, as well as false teachings, and allow them to learn to be able to defend their beliefs so they are not blind-sided by world-views when they get out into the real world. That is not to say I condone private schools. It is just a choice that I have made for my family.

Several memes that I have seen reference the fact that “when God was allowed in our schools,” these school shootings didn’t happen.  It is true that when I was in high school, students proudly hung their hunting rifles in the windows of their truck right in the school parking lots.  However, times have changed and the media is to blame for a lot of the “copycatting” we are seeing.  Just as suicides are often “copycatted” (which is why they are rarely publicized), so are school shootings.

4. Back to guns.. what’s wrong with regulations? Again, I appreciate my right to have a gun.  But I am having a hard time understanding why so many right-wingers are so opposed to regulations.  We have to register our cars, boats and tractors.  We have to get licenses to get married, hunt, fish, and drive.  We have to report our assets and how much money we make.  What in the world is wrong with keeping up with how many and what type of guns people have? So what if we have to jump a few hoops to get one?  Has anyone tried to get Sudafed lately?  If you haven’t, you have to show ID and your name goes into a registry to make sure you aren’t buying too much due to the amount of people using it to make meth.  While I hold my breath every time I need to buy pseudoephedrine for fear that I am going to have bought my max for the specified term, I don’t mind the red tape if that means that it is reducing the amount of methamphetamine that are hitting our streets.  Why should gun control be any different?  If you are doing things lawfully and for legitimate reasons, why do you care about the regulations if it benefits the greater good? I certainly don’t mind.

5.  Families are in crisis! Why are we seeing an increase in violence and mass shootings? There are lots of reasons.  They vary from mental illness to bullying, to social media and technology, to access to guns and video games.  But the underlying issue is also the demise of the family structure.

Several years ago, there was an initiative in Virginia to keep kids out of foster care. This has been done through the use of kinship care and prevention services.  Basically, the goal is to reduce the foster care numbers, realizing that placements are expensive and that foster care is traumatizing to children. While I recognize how traumatic it is for children to go into foster care, it is more traumatic to leave them in a home where they are abused, neglected, and subjected to drug/alcohol abuse and domestic violence repeatedly.  Prevention services are a great idea, however, there is not enough funding to ensure that quality services are given to families to include close monitoring and follow up. Kinship care is also a great idea, so that children don’t have to go in a stranger’s home when removed from their parent/guardian, however, funding is rarely provided to these already struggling families when they take on another child. Further, many of the extended families in which children are being placed have similar concerns that caused them to be removed from the birth families in the first place.  Abuse and neglect is often generational, after all. The idea behind the initiative is a great one, but as many other initiatives, they are often not adequately funded.

When children are in abusive or neglectful homes, research shows that the earlier they are removed, the better the chance of resiliency.  The older they get and longer they are subjected to abuse and neglect, the more likely they are to develop behavioral and mental health concerns. Further, the more likely they are to repeat the abuse and neglect themselves as an adult.

I have been in this field long enough to see the generational trend.  The abused and neglected children I once dealt with are now parents who are repeating history. And usually, they are the ones that were left in the home far too long or were never removed at all.  Certainly, there are exceptions to this rule, but research supports my theory.

On January 1, 2007, there were 8150 children in foster care in Virginia. Eleven years later, on January 1, 2018, there were 5186.  Does this mean that our society has improved so much that we are down by 37% of abusive and neglectful homes? I think not.  For fiscal year 2016, Virginia had 127,837 child abuse/neglect complaints. Out of those, 73,301 were “accepted.” A total of 50,176 became “family assessments,” meaning a social worker referred the family out for services, sometimes simply meaning sending a letter with community resources for them to follow up with.  21,621 of the complaints were investigated. Out of those,   9578 were “founded,” meaning there was evidence of abuse and neglect. So let’s add this up, 9578 founded complaints and 5186 in foster care.  Puzzling isn’t it?

https://www.dss.virginia.gov/files/about/reports/children/cps/all_other/2017/Abuse_and_Neglect_by_Locality_SFY2017_mod1.pdf

I’m not suggesting all these school shooters come from abusive or neglectful homes, but I can tell you that products of these homes are often left with severe behavioral and mental health issues.  The longer they are subjected to the abuse and neglect, the more serious and irreversible the consequences

We must make changes.  Social Service agencies need more funding. They need more workers who can get out and thoroughly investigate situations and follow up. These days, many agencies are barely putting out fires because of the work demands. I am not suggesting that we start yanking children out of every “less than stellar” home, but I am suggesting that we offer intensive preventative services to ensure children are safe and that parent’s are compliant.  This goes far beyond sending letters with resources for parents to contact with no follow up of compliance.

6. Before posting your next meme about school shootings, consider your willingness to put your money “where your mouth is.” If you really want changes to be made, it’s going to cost us all.  More money for law enforcement, more money for mental health services, more money for gun regulation, more money for schools to amp up security and prevention services.  There is not one answer/solution to the problem.  I’m not advocating for more governmental spending, but let’s face it, our tax dollars are what funds these services.  Perhaps funds can be cut in other areas, in fact, I’m sure they can.   Heaven knows that middle class Americans are already taxed ridiculously.  But I’m willing to support these endeavors to truly make America great again and keep our children safe.

7.  Be kind and teach your kids to do the same.  What if we stepped out of our comfort zone and reached out to those hurting? What if we encouraged our children to befriend someone with few friends? What if we focused more on kindness and less on popularity? I know. We can encourage it but our kids don’t always listen. But what if we modeled it in our own lives? What if we reached out to that parent who is at wit’s end with their kid? What if we offered help and suppport? What if we stopped judging and actually helped one another?

8.  Stop defending bad behavior. As stated in previous posts, we have come to a point in our society in which parents quickly go to the defense of their child.  They are quick to curse teachers/administrators when their child gets a bad grade or gets a referral. They are quick to blame their child’s actions on ADHD, Autism, Depression, bad teachers, prejudice, etc  and offer no accountability whatsoever.  They are more worried about WHO knows about their child being naughty rather than what the child actually did. THIS is a huge paradigm shift from years ago, pre-school shootings, and has a huge implication on where we are today as a society.  We are raising a generation of entitled and spoiled humans.

 

You don’t have to agree with me.  Perhaps you have better ideas. That’s fantastic! But please stop concentrating on only a small piece of the puzzle and know all the facts surrounding the issues.

 

 

 

 

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If my kid is a punk, I want to know….

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Today marks the day I’ve dreaded and feared, but also celebrate as the end of being a “mom taxi.” It’s the day my first born will take off on his own in a 5000 pound “toy.” A new found freedom and a step into independence. It’s terrifying. Don’t get me wrong, my son is a great kid. He’s maintained a 4.0 GPA or higher since he started even getting letter grades. He’s never had a discipline referral (probably because he just hasn’t gotten caught🙄) He’s an athlete who works hard and is passionate and competitive in everything he does. He’s funny, kind and witty. But he’s also a punk sometimes. He’s a 6’1, 200 pound boy full of immaturity and a sense of indestructibility. I’ve done the best I could. I’ve raised him in church, stressed the importance of education, taught and modeled kindness to others, limited his access to technology, stalked him every chance I could get, implemented hard consequences, modeled and taught the dangers of drugs and alcohol and said “no” when other parents said “yes.” But he’s not beyond being a punk. And if he is, I want you to tell me.

You see, we as a society, have morphed away from accountability for our children. We take the actions of our children as a personal attack on our parenting and immediately go to the defense. Our focus is taken off of what our kids do, and becomes more about what people think. So, as I’ve pondered this, I’ve had a few thoughts come to mind:

1. If my kid is being a punk, I want to know. If you see him drinking, vaping, speeding, spinning wheels, texting and driving, racing, or just being a general punk, I want to know. My source will never be revealed.
2. His mistakes are not a reflection of my parenting. We all do the best we can as parents. Parenting doesn’t come with an instruction book. It’s a trial and error sort of thing. It’s a “flying by the seat of your pants” concept. Sure, small children who tantrum in the middle of the store until the parents give in have some liability in their child’s actions. But let’s face it, once our kids are teenagers, they have morphed into little adults with their own ideas, beliefs, morals and personalities. They are going to mess up, despite our instruction and prayers. Wouldn’t it be nice if we stopped judging each other’s parenting and instead, supported one another?
3. If you see my son is doing any of the things mentioned in #1, or more, and he has no consequence for it, then you can judge me. In my home, it’s guilty until proven innocent. Therefore, reports of being a punk are considered true unless proven, with evidence, otherwise. If I don’t attempt to correct it or ignore it, I deserve the judgement.
4. Don’t celebrate my kid’s failures. He’s going to mess up. It’s bound to happen. Don’t inwardly (or outwardly) find joy in other’s mistakes. Maybe you don’t like me or my kid and the thought of him getting caught being a punk fills you with great joy. A word of caution, the law of karma will come back to bite you threefold. Seriously.
5. My kid’s life, health, future, and safety trumps any pride I may have. I recently learned of an acquaintance whose child was seen drinking on social media. Instead of the parent implementing consequences for the drinking, the immediate response was to make sure no other parents saw the post by reminding her child and others to block any potential “leaks.” While I don’t want my child shotgunning beer all over snapchat, more importantly I don’t want him shotgunning beer. Period.
6. I’m clinging to Proverbs 22:6. “Start children off on the way they should go, and when they are old they will not turn from it.” Mainly, the Word is telling us in this verse that until they are old, they are probably going to depart from everything we have tried to etch in their brains at some point. So I’m standing firm in prayer, holding my breath, staying optimistic and celebrating the last few years at home with my boy before he ventures off on his own. 😩

 

And remember, if my kid’s being a punk, I want to know!!

Crazy Teenage Mama Drama

After all, aren’t we in this child rearing game together? It’s not a competition. It’s a support system .

Although I helped rear my 2 step-children through the teenage years on a part-time basis, I was not able to truly experience “crazy mama drama” until recently, as my oldest child morphed into a teenager. Starting with middle school, I began to notice seemingly well-meaning mothers infiltrate their way into teenage relationships and conflict. While it seems that this is most commonly seen by mothers of girls, there are plenty of boy mama’s out there living vicariously as well. Now that I have a freshmen in high school, I have put together a few pieces of advice based on the mama drama I have witnessed over the past three years.

1.  You do not TRULY know your child.

Although no one knows our children like us mama’s, I can’t tell you the countless times I have seen parents be flabbergasted to learn what their sweet little cherubs are capable of.  As a juvenile probation officer and school social worker, I often witnessed irate parents stomp their feet, hire attorneys and curse any authority figure who would accuse their fresh faced adolescent of anything other than perfection.  So many times, these same parents were slapped in the face with the reality that their precious offspring DID steal, or lie, or use drugs, or drink alcohol. How could this be?  How could this little person, whom we have birthed, swaddled, fed, clothed, taught, read to and loved unconditionally possibly do something that is so uncharacteristic?  Well folks, that is because they are their own independent person. As they morph into adolescence, they develop their own personalities and belief systems that are often much different than ours.  They tell us what we want to hear, and even though we creep into their bedrooms at night to stalk out all their social media accounts, we still do not truly know what our children are capable of.  Why do I share this?  Well, when you are confronted with an accusation against your child or your child is in the middle of peer conflict – human nature kicks in and we go into defense mode. “My child WOULD NOT do that!” “He/she is just jealous of you!” “My child and I are very close and I know that he/she would never do anything like that!” “I am so glad that my child isn’t involved with anything like that!” Mama’s – a word of advice…you are likely to look like a fool by responding in this manner.  Little Sally down the street, who was recently  sending pictures of her Tata’s to the football team, also has a mother who thinks “my daughter would NEVER do that!”

2.  Guilty until proven innocent.

Although our constitution guarantees us the contrary, parenting is a whole different ballgame.  When we quickly rise to defense when our child is in peer conflict or has been accused of something, we are creating a narcissistic mindset.  Yes, we should protect our children from injustice and we should certainly be our child’s cheerleader, but parent’s fail to investigate details before jumping to conclusions. And sometimes, we may never know the whole truth, but we have to guide our children to maintain integrity.  Even if they did nothing to deserve the accusation, the mistreatment, the injustice, the punishment – we need to encourage our children to take a look at the situation, relationship, etc. and see how things might have been handled differently.  Have them consider what they may have done, intentionally or not, that might have contributed to the problem.  When we start pointing fingers at others and making malicious remarks at those who have hurt our babies, we are diverting the focus and letting our own insecurities about what people think about our child take away from the actual situation.

I have watched my children go through heartache with peers and boyfriends/girlfriends.  It is tough to see your child hurting.  My natural response if to want to fix it. Although I certainly offer comfort and support to my child, I also want them to use the situation as a learning experience. All children need to feel pain, hurt, disappointment, loss, etc.  It is part of life.  Use these opportunities to have your child reflect on what was good in the relationship and what was bad.  Have them consider how they want to move forward and what they learned from being in this experience.  All too often, I see mama’s immediately put up their dukes and start hashing out rumors, retaliation and anger towards those that caused the heartbreak in their offspring.  You are creating little monsters when you do this and you, yourself, will be a monster-in-law one day if you keep it up.  Let’s face it, there are times when life just isn’t fair and people are just plain mean, but don’t always assume your bright eyed blessing is not at fault. You are only getting a part of the story, a very biased part of the story, if it is coming from a teenager.

3. Stop manipulating your child’s social status.

I have been appalled recently to see mother’s infiltrate their children’s social circle. They are the mother’s that are posting more pictures of their children and friends than their own friends on social media.  They are the mothers who seem to know everything, or at least they think they know everything, about the teenage going-ons.   They know who is dating who, why Sally and Susie aren’t friends anymore, who lost their virginity recently and why Peter lost his starting position in basketball.  They are the mothers who want their child to be popular.  And if they aren’t popular, they seek vengeance on those that are.  They secretly wish that the girl who outdid their daughter at cheerleading tryouts gets kicked off the squad.  They wish the boyfriend who broke their daughter’s heart loses his starting position on the football team. They don’t “like” pictures on social media of the teenage nemeses. They seethe over the successes and statuses of their child’s rival.

Recently, I have been around groups of mothers, whose conversations are solely about teenage drama.  They seem to have all the scoop, the latest and greatest gossip straight from the filtered mouths of their teens.  As I sit back and listen, I have several thoughts.  Am I in the dark because I have two boys, who don’t share all the nitty gritty drama with me? Do I really want to know all this? Has my adult life really reverted back to high school, where I am drawn into a living episode of 90210? When adults engage in teenage drama, we are setting the precedent that gossip is OK. We are spreading information that very well may not be true, as it is most likely coming from teenagers. We are teaching our kids that jealousy is OK.

We all want our children to be the best, have the best and strive for the best.  But that is not reality. We must stop this “lawn mowing parent” concept, where we are mowing down obstacles and clearing the paths for our little bambinos to assure that they don’t have to face adversity.  We will not be able to follow them around their adult life and ensure their lifelong happiness. We will not be able to convince everyone that they are, indeed, the best, the nicest, the smartest, the most athletic.  So when they leave the nest (and let’s all hope they do) they will not know how to fly.

Maybe you were  “ultra-cool” back in the day and want your child to have the same social status.  Or maybe, you were the opposite, and want your child to be the most sought after child on campus so that you can live vicariously through their popularity. Let’s face it, we all want our kids to be liked.  But being popular is a short 4-6 year gig that means absolutely nothing in the real world.  Let your child be who they are.  Don’t get wrapped up in their friendships and social networks. Stand back, guide them, comfort when needed, and allow them to make their own mistakes so they can learn from them.

4. Watch your social media ethics. 

Have you ever noticed the mother’s who constantly post pictures of their child, with quotes such as “My Sunshine,” “My World,”etc….? Don’t get me wrong – I love pictures and I post quite often myself. But I think we all have to keep ourselves in check about what our motives are.  Are you posting so that Aunt Polly who lives in Alaska can see what we are up to?   Is it that grandparents, who can’t see your kids often, can be involved in their “going-ons?”  OR is it to see how many “likes” you get? Or are you posting everything that your kids are doing so that others will be jealous? Or so you will look like the “cool mom?” You have to wonder about obsessiveness when you see daily or regular posts  of the same child over, and over and over.

In addition to what you are posting, are you purposely “not liking” statuses and pictures of other kids that your child is not getting along with or has a rivalry with?  I have to ask, why are you even following that person if that is the case?  Recently, I noticed that a mother, who had always previously “liked” many of my posts of my son suddenly stopped.  She also stopped “liking” posts of his girlfriend.  Then I learned that she and her daughter are tiffed at my son’s new relationship.  Really?  Are mothers really that shallow?  Yes…they are.

Social media sheds a lot of light on character.  You might want to keep yours in check.

5. Do not base your friendships on your children’s friendships. 

As we navigate parenthood, many of us make new friends with the parents of our children’s friends.  Maybe it is because our kids play sports together and we spend a lot of time together on the sideline. Maybe it is because we spend countless hours together waiting  for our little ballerina to finish her lesson.  Whatever the reason, it happens.  Some of my closest friends are those who I have met through these types of interactions.  But what happens when the children of these new found adult relationships are no longer friends? What happens when Timmy makes the baseball team and Peter doesn’t?  What happens when Sally is being mean to Susie at school?  Does that change the friendships between the parents?  It shouldn’t.

Come on, folks.  Teenagers are still learning and growing.  They are immature and have not yet learned how to navigate the world around them.  Their frontal lobes are not fully developed and they do not have the cognitive ability to handle situations appropriately.  We must model relationships for them.

Do you find yourself seething when another child wrongs yours?  Do you get jealous when someone out-performs your child? Do you hold that against the parent?  If so, it is time to get yourself in check.  Just because teenage relationships fall apart does not mean that adult relationships have to. And never, ever, ever should you get angry with a child just because yours is upset.

Certainly, there are children that we just don’t like.  And of course, we have seen our children be mistreated by their “friends.”  We don’t have to like it and we absolutely should express our concerns to our child when we see those things happen. But it is not up to us to decide what they will and will not tolerate.

Far too often do I see mothers get so angry with other children for what they did to hurt theirs.  Mama Bear come out and so do the claws.  Retaliation starts, bad mouthing engages and tempers flare – which exacerbates the teenage drama.  Then the other mama gets involved.  What a nightmare!  Then, 2 months later, the two little cherubs are friends again and the mamas can’t even be in the same room with one another.

While it’s totally normal to hang out with parents who your kids are close with, don’t forget friendships of those who you have known forever or who still love you even though your little Joey and your friend’s little Sam aren’t good buddies anymore.  It is best to keep adult relationships completely separate from kid relationships    And if you are friends with one of the moms whose child “can do no wrong,” just  nod your head politely when the boasting starts. You love then for who they are, not their kid, right?  And if you are a real good friend, you will be there when that same mama is devastated because “Little Miss/Mr Can’t Be Wrong” has failed to live up to her/his title.  You’ll pat her on the back, wipe her tears, and not remind her of all the pedestal putting she has made you endure. And, you will be sure to encourage her that your little adolescent spawn is flawed as well, maybe just in different ways.  After all, aren’t we in this child rearing game together? It’s not a competition.  It’s a support system .

In summary, I certainly don’t have all the answers but I know, through my professional and personal life, our precious offspring can and will disappoint us. They will be hurt.  They will be involved in drama.  They will do things we swore they wouldn’t.  So model what real friendship looks like, remove yourself from the drama, support and encourage, discipline and hold accountable,  but be a mama first and a friend later.  You won’t be sorry!

PS..It’s really ok if they hate you right now. It means you are doing something right.  And they will love you for it in adulthood.